Robert S. Langer, ScD

Honorary Doctor of Science

LangerBy numbers alone, Robert S. Langer is in a class by himself. The David H. Koch Institute Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Langer has to his credit:

  • 1,080 patents and patent applications
  • 1,300 articles
  • 220 major awards
  • 40 editorial board seats
  • 300 licenses
  • 120 named lectures

The man behind the numbers is even more impressive. Ask Langer about his greatest accomplishment and he doesn’t mention being one of four living individuals to have received both the U.S. National Medal of Science and the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation or that he received the 2002 Charles Stark Draper Prize, considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for engineers.

Instead, he says his greatest feat is “the success of my students. Over 270 are professors at universities all over the world. Many others have started companies, become CEOs, and successful business people.”

Through his research Langer has become the most cited engineer in history (h-index 211) and his patents have been licensed or sublicensed to more than 300 pharmaceutical, chemical, biotechnology, and medical device companies.

Asked to describe his research in layman’s terms, Langer says, “Our work is at the interface of biotechnology and materials science. A major focus is the study and development of plastics to deliver drugs right to where you need them in the body. Another is combining mammalian cells and plastics in such a way to make new tissue and organs such as skin for burn victims.”

When the University of Maryland School of Dentistry nominated Langer for an honorary degree it pointed out he was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1989, and in 1992 he was elected to both the National Academy of Engineering and to the National Academy of Sciences. That made him one of very few people ever elected to all three U.S. National Academies and the youngest in history (age 43 at the time) to ever receive this distinction.

Selected by Parade magazine as one of six “heroes whose research may save your life,” Langer has spent much of his professional life at MIT,  beginning as a research assistant in 1972, earning his Doctor of Science degree there in 1974 (after earning his BS in chemical engineering at Cornell) and rapidly climbing the faculty ranks.

Forbes magazine in 2002 named Langer as one of the 15 innovators worldwide who will reinvent our future. He says he’s not done yet. Asked what remains to be achieved by one of the world’s greatest engineers, Langer says “to come up with more ideas and discoveries, to convert them into products and treatments that can save and improve lives, and to train the leaders of the future.”

Despite having received dozens of honorary degrees coming from as far away as Ben-Gurion University in Israel, he says he’s excited to be honored by UMB. “I was shocked and thrilled and very happy to receive the invitation,” Langer says. “It is quite an honor.”

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